Monday 17 January 2011

Myth-Busting Monday: ‘The camera never lies’

In response to our recent call-out for abortion myths and misinformation this week’s blog takes a look at the use of visual images in the abortion debate, specifically the now infamous ‘hand of hope’ photograph.

Back in March 2008 Conservative MP Nadine Dorries posted on her blog a photo known commonly as ‘the hand of hope’. This image of a 21-week old fetus being operated on in utero for spina bifida has been exploited by many anti-choice organisations to support arguments for tightening abortion laws despite the fact that it does not feature an abortion procedure.

Alongside the image, Dorries claimed that, ‘When the operation was over, baby Samuel, at 21 weeks gestation, put his hand through the incision in the uterus and grabbed hold of the surgeon’s finger, a gesture which was apparently met with a huge amount of emotion in the operating theatre’. Using the picture as ‘evidence’, Dorries attempts to support her arguments against legal abortion post 20-weeks gestation: ‘In the UK we are aborting babies just like this and older every single day.’

Following criticism from Dr Ben Goldacre (amongst others), Dorries wrote a second blog refuting claims that the photo was a hoax stating: ‘Don’t listen to me, don’t listen to the pro-abortionists (sic). Trust your own eyes, believe what you see.’ Here, for Dorries, seeing is believing. She stands by her claim that the fetus reached out from the womb despite evidence to the contrary (including a statement from the surgeon himself).

This is just one example of a fetal image being used to support an anti-choice stance. Any Google search of ‘abortion’ will bring up an array of websites offering pages of images claimed to represent the process of abortion. We are also aware of at least one anti-choice organisation which shows fetal images to young people during school workshops. Although many of these stock images have been ‘debunked’ – shown to be fakes or misrepresentations, they clearly still have a presence, particularly online but also, alarmingly, when being presented by ‘experts’ in an educational setting.

Here at EFC we have no truck with the use of fetal images to educate young people about abortion. Young people need accurate information and pictures often don’t illuminate the facts. For example, they can tell us nothing about viability, sentience, pain, and most importantly, nothing about the woman, her life and the process she has gone through to make her decision. Generally images like this are used to stigmatise the choice of abortion by emphasising the ‘yuck factor’ which arguably has little function in discussions of morality, reality and choice.

For the EFC visual presentation of abortion facts click on our Flickr slideshow to the right of this blog.

With thanks to sinaedwithafada on Twitter for requesting a rundown of the ‘hand of hope’ hoax. If you have any suggestions for future blogs please Tweet or email us.

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